Romeo and Juliet
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
The Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet perform exactly as you expect they would – with due reverence to tradition: a case of from Russia with tights. Yet their version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet harkens back to its 1930s origins in surprising ways – not least in a series of sets that remind one of an Errol Flynn film. The same goes for the folk costuming: clean and bright as if we are watching in Technicolor.
If all this has a certain staidness, the same cannot be said for Kenneth MacMillan's 1964 choreography. It is justifiably a classic: allowing dancers space for characterisation and individuality; flowing and naturalistic, yet technical; and times stately and formal, at others deeply intimate, where the simplest gesture can carry the greatest emotional weight.
The choreography challenges its performers to go beyond mere excellence – to find in movement worthy echoes of Shakespeare's words, and of the music's breadth of emotion.
As Juliet, Natalia Domracheva initially appears almost too girlish as we find her playing innocently with her nurse. Gradually, she grows along with the emotions awakened by Romeo and Domracheva retains a suppleness and innocence in her movement. With one exception, that is – in her dance of rejection with Paris, in which Domracheva moves in a stark, taut contrast.
As Romeo, Ruslan Savdenov appears more comfortable and confident as a soloist than in support of Domracheva's Juliet. This might have been fatal to the role, but in MacMillian's setting it almost becomes a virtue. In the famous balcony scene, his occasional show of strain, the odd inelegant adjustment of feet, become points where movement and character coincide. It brings a humanity to his display, draws us into the moment and lays the foundation for a climactic kiss.
At other times, the design of the production becomes a barrier to emotional engagement. The look is undelineated, impersonal: it doesn't feel like anybody's particular vision so that, at times, it cannot carry the weight of the music.
This is most apparent during the Dance of the Knights. The most famous piece of music Prokofiev ever wrote is a masterful insertion, a cloud of foreboding that never dissipates, even after its piercing strings and puncturing brass have subsided. Yet here it is reduced to a processional in not very convincing costumes. Over the past several decades, opera has reinvented itself by emphasising the theatrical. Is it time for Russian ballet to do the same?